Reflecting on the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

Donna Derr | August 25, 2015

CWS Hurrican Katrina work

Homeowner Gloria Mouton, who is returning to her newly rebuilt home, is congratulated by CWS Executive Director John McCullough, in a May 13, 2009 celebration of the Little Wood neighborhood rebuilding effort, spearheaded by CWS in New Orleans. Photo: Matt Hackworth/CWS

Although many colleagues will tell you that I often have an adverse reaction to the “anniversary” events around major disasters, they are, in fact, often a time of reflection for me as I think about how such events highlight both the weaknesses in our response systems and the best of our humanity as we respond to our neighbors in need.

As we approach the 10th year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it has been another moment of reflection for me. I am reminded of how our evacuation and shelter systems in the US were not up to the task of responding to the massive impact of Katrina. More significantly however, I am reminded of the many instances of neighbor helping neighbor, of people from around the US and globally offering support and encouragement to those who had been impacted by Katrina, and by the extreme outpouring of compassion for others that is so often absent in our day to day moments. Hurricane Katrina at its worst exposed the weaknesses in our own systems in the face of such a catastrophic event.

And yet, it also exposed our best….our compassion for those whose names, ethnicities or histories we might never know, but whose condition in those days and months after Katrina we found unacceptable. And in our response, we showcased the best of who we are — compassionate, non-judgmental, neighbors in the very best definition of the word.

And so, as I reflect in this moment, I recognize that the learning of what needed to change in our response systems was substantial and has hopefully informed needed changes in our governmental and NGO organizational systems in the intervening years. What I hope hasn’t changed is the best of what I experienced after Katrina — the pure and unbiased heart of compassion and outpouring of support of people throughout the US and the world. How we responded after events such as Hurricane Katrina should be the example of what we strive to be as a community, a country, as world citizens.

Donna Derr is the Director of Development and Humanitarian Assistance at CWS.